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The South Arkansas Arts Center has announced the cast for The Penguin Project’s production of “Honk! JR.,” sponsored by LANXESS , which will run Friday and Saturday in the Callaway Theater.

The Penguin Project is a unique opportunity for children with special needs to perform in a live stage production in front of an audience. Through targeted outreach, special needs children are recruited as artists and cast in the production, from starring roles to ensemble. Each special-needs artist is paired with a mentor of similar age, who guides them through the production from start to finish, helping them learn lines, dances, songs, and blocking. The children operate as a pair throughout the entire process and appear on stage together, resulting in a full theatrical performance, with costumes, sets, and music.

“Honk! JR.” is a heartwarming celebration of being different that is sure to delight audiences of all ages with its sparkling wit, unique charm and memorable score. Witty and hilarious, but also deeply moving, it will treat audience members to equal amounts of laughter and tears.

The cast includes an artist and mentor in each role: Braelyn Allen and Clay Evers – Ugly; Annie Walker and Tiffanie Duke - Ida; Christian Cotton and Connor McMurry - Drake; Lily Langston and Hannah Hickman - Cat; Skylar Drummonds and Maddy Couture - Maureen; Haley Cates and Mary Claire Parker - Grace; Skylar Wardell and Gideon Moncrief - Billy; Henlea Stevens and Avery Hall - Downy; Peyton Wardell and Joshua Lee - Beaky; Rebekah Lee and Cooper Connor - Fluff; Haley Cates and Riya Nelson - Henrietta; Will Colvin and Josie Denson - Turkey; Ellis Lyles - Bullfrog; Michael Raborn and Aaron Norton - Greylag; Peyton Wardell and Hannia Valero - Dot; Channing Lee and Maggie Meyer - Penny; Ellery Palculit - Mother Swan; Sam Jones and Caleb Lee - Father Swan and Torrin Douhlas - Pink Foot.

“I cannot believe how fast the production is coming together,” said Karen Langston, who served as mentor coordinator. “I have seen our artists really come alive on stage. The mentors have humbled me when I see the compassion and commitment they have to not just the show, but their artist. We are seeing friendships come alive. This is going to be an amazing show!”

Darrin Riley, who serves as the acting coach for “Honk! JR” said working with the children has reaffirmed his belief in the power of the arts.

“Watching this group of young actors and their mentors work together to create a bond of trust and friendship is what this program is really all about,” Riley said. “By letting go of any limitations, they work as a team to become the animals that inhabit the story. For many that has meant stepping out of their comfort zone, but they are meeting that challenge head on. The hugs and goodbyes at the end of each rehearsal only prove the transformative therapy of theatre. There is no experience quite like Penguin!”

For more information about “Honk! JR” or the Penguin Project, contact the SAAC office at 870-862-5474 or visit SAAC is located at 110 E. Fifth St., El Dorado.

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